Ok, imagine the scene, the editor of the New York Times wants to do a double-page spread on a famous religious leader. She decides to choose one of Jesus’ close circle. The goal is to paint a picture of the real life of a 1st century leader amongst one of the great religious upheavals history has ever seen. She types into Google the 12 apostles and picks the first name that peeks her interest… Bartholomew. She calls up an eager young journalist and gives him the assignment. Not coming from a religious background, her journalist knew nothing about this ‘Bartholomew’ guy. However, he was pretty confident that with a quick bit of Googling, he could come up with an outline sketch. This is where his problems start. Website after website had just a few lines and most of the words were related to the gruesome nature of his death. But what about his life? What did he do? He was one of the Apostles! I mean, if ever there was 1st century stardom, being an Apostle must get you an entry ticket to the party. Between Jesus’ ascension and Bartholomew’s death, there is next to nothing recorded when it comes to evidence of his life and ministry. The journalist is a little rattled; how can he write an extraordinary double-page spread about a life that, it seems, was not worth recording! Possibly even an ordinary life! After multiple Google searches and much hair-pulling, the journalist takes a deep breath and heads back to his editor’s office and asks if he might switch the focus of his article to another of the Apostles. He tells her there seems little to write about Bartholomew and he fears the article will end up being at best, ordinary. So the editor fires up Google, finds the list of Apostles again and chooses a second superstar that she wants a sparkling article written about. This time, it’s “James, son of Alphaeus”. He sounds interesting. Back to his desk the journalist goes with a new name and a new sense of excitement. What would he discover about this revolutionary leader? Unfortunately for him though, in short, even less than he knew about Bartholomew! In an outburst of frustration, he shouts to himself (and the rest of the office), “What is it with these Apostles, they were just ordinary men! Is there nothing extraordinary about them?”
This short blog post is really a plea for us to rediscover the beauty and importance of the ordinary. So much in our society is shaped around the extra-ordinary. Those finely polished and curated Instagram posts of famous celebrities (and let’s be honest, many of our own posts can be a bit like that). The constant “wooing” of customers, by technology companies, to buy the latest extraordinary gadget or programme that is going to revolutionise our world! There is huge pressure to have a family life that is beyond ordinary, jobs that are a cut above the rest, sex lives that are always crackling with extraordinary pleasure and friendships that are never just plain ordinary. And have you noticed that there is also a cultural shift happening now amongst western society to prefer buying experiences over the consumption of ‘stuff’. However, these experiences have to be extraordinary, special, and certainly not run-of-the-mill or, dare I say it, just plain ordinary. We live in a culture that is hardwired to place value on the ‘extra’ and to increasingly demean the ‘ordinary’.
I also believe this pursuit for the extraordinary has infiltrated the church. There is the superstar status of some pastors/leaders. There is also, the tendency among some traditions (especially my own Charismatic tradition) to elevate the ‘extra’ over the every day and the common, which previous generations have cherished so much. Walking daily with Jesus is no longer good enough, there is a constant ‘itch’ for more exotic experiences. Common graces are overlooked or maybe even worse, taken for granted because of the perceived need for bigger and more spectacular …. [fill in the gaps].
I’m writing this in an attempt to remind myself and hopefully others of the beauty and importance of the ordinary. So here goes, here’s why I think the ordinary is so extraordinary.
IT REINFORCES OUR COMMITMENT TO THE HUMANITY OF CHRIST
In Tish H. Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary she writes: “The Word became flesh. The Word went fishing. The Word slept. The Word woke up with morning breath. The Word brushed his teeth—or at least he would have, if the Word had been a twenty-first-century American instead of a first-century Judean.” So much of our Christianity has become disconnected from the everyday and human activities of life. Yet Jesus walked, slept, wept, laughed and rejoiced his way through this ordinary life and modelled for us what real everyday living looks like. To avoid the ordinary is to inadvertently diminish the humanity of Jesus!
A COMMITMENT TO THE ORDINARY IS A COMMITMENT TO ALL OF LIFE
When we are content to inhabit an ordinary life, I believe it will open our eyes to the wonder and majesty of the million-and-one-things around us that make up our ordinary worlds – an ordinary text from a friend to says thanks, an ordinary walk with friends, an ordinary meal, made in an ordinary kitchen, eaten around an ordinary table, with ordinary conversations taking place. Friends, life is made up of the ordinary — life wouldn’t be life without the beauty of ordinary things. Just think about one of the first interactions we read about between God and a human – God walking with Adam and Eve in a garden (granted it’s the garden of Eden) in the cool of the day. What a beautiful image of the importance of the ordinary.
IT GIVES DIGNITY TO ALL OF LIFE AND NOT JUST A SPECIAL BREED OF ELITE HUMANS
Genesis 1:27 says that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”. Human value and dignity does not come from the number of Instagram followers you have or the size of your house or the number of extraordinary experiences you have had. No, human value and dignity come from being made as one made in the image of God. The celebrity mindset and the incessant need to pursue the extraordinary, undermines this most precious truth and with it whole swathes of God’s creation are written off or at least seen as a second rate version of human beings.
IT ENABLES US TO ACTUALLY LIVE AS THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS (1 PET 2:5-9) AND NOT JUST TALK ABOUT IT.
Ordinary Christians, living ordinary lives, working ordinary jobs, having ordinary families and making ordinary friends is the context where the priesthood of all believers shines brightest! How can an extraordinary God use such a motley crew? Yet this is the beauty and wonder! God takes the plain and simple and the very ordinary and he weaves them together into a community of priests and through them, he displays his manifold wisdom (Eph 3:10) for the whole world to see! Ordinary butchers, ordinary bakers and if there are any left, ordinary candlestick-makers, woven together into a royal and holy community ministering to our God and displaying the extraordinary nature of him and his kingdom. And this leads to another key point…
ORDINARY PEOPLE ARE MOST ABLE TO MAKE MUCH OF JESUS
Ordinary people see the wonder of Christ easily. And here’s the thing, when ordinary people really get this, and turn outwards and share the wonder of Jesus with those around them and as a community, the church starts to radiate with his wonder and passion through their words, works and wonders. Everyone (and I mean everyone) will know it is not because of a clever strategy or secret ninja-like group of super Christians. No, ordinary people amplify in the most wonderful way, the majesty of Jesus to those around them!
So, let’s be people who don’t run from the ordinary, but embrace it! Live your lives to the full as ordinary men, women, teenagers, children, wives, husbands, lovers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, work colleagues, friends, church members, and so much more! And in and amongst the ordinary – look to show the most extraordinary nature of our God! In praise of the ordinary because in the midst of the ordinary, our extraordinary God is seen!